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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Happiness in Law and Policy: Two Empirical Studies

  • Author(s): DePianto, David Ennio
  • Advisor(s): Cooter, Robert D
  • et al.

Comprising two independent empirical analyses, this dissertation leverages the data and methodology of the happiness research program to address issues in tort and employment discrimination. The first piece of the dissertation uses domain-specific measures of well-being - financial satisfaction and perceived relative income - to gain insight on potential differences in the way that individuals of different demographic groups assess their income. Insofar as it reflects or impacts the economic incentive structures facing workers of different demographic groups, the subjective assessment of income has far-reaching implications in a variety of civil rights contexts, where the expansion of economic opportunity among historically disadvantaged groups is a first-order goal. The results of the study indicate that different race/gender pairs do respond to income differently: for both financial satisfaction and perceived relative income, white females, black females and black males all have lower returns to personal income than do white males. White males, in other words, appear to reap more "bang for the buck" in terms of both of the outcome variables, even after a host of control variables are introduced. The results are germane to ongoing debates about claiming behavior, filing deadlines, and race/gender clustering in the employment context.

The second chapter employs survey data on subjective well-being and a battery of self-assessed health measures to estimate the hedonic impact of emotional health, as decoupled from its physical counterpart. The analysis is done with an eye toward tort law, which has historically drawn a distinction between physical and emotional harms, limiting recovery on the latter through various common law doctrines. After offering a cautious defense of the use of subjective well-being as a proxy for injury in the tort context, the paper shows that a range of potentially inactionable emotional conditions, including "stand alone" emotional conditions with no concomitant physical manifestations, exert a significant negative impact on subjective well-being. To the extent that subjective well-being, or happiness, captures something meaningful about what it means to be "made whole" as an aggrieved tort litigant, the results of this paper suggest that the limitations on recovery for stand-alone emotional harms may be misguided.

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